Weight is the enemy of performance. But where the weight on a car also matters. In the case of the electric MINI Cooper SE, that weight is as low as possible creating an astonished low center of gravity. Then there’s the immediacy of the torque which propels the MINI Cooper SE to 30 mph faster than any MINI ever. But what happens when you get the electric MINI Cooper SE on a track? We went to California’s BMW Performance Center to find out.
A few of quick warm-up laps on the auto-cross circuit immediately revealed a few things. For one acceleration is immediate and drama-free. The second thing is that weight. As we mentioned the center of gravity is lower than on any modern MINI ever with its 32.6 kWh lithium-ion battery wedged as low as possible.
Despite a ride height that’s an inch higher than normal, this thing is immediate in its direction changes and is extremely progressive at the limit. In fact it is the most balanced MINI I have ever driven.
About that weight. A standard Mini Cooper S weighs in between 2,700 and 2,800 depending on options. The Cooper SE is over 300 lbs heavier at 3,153 lbs. The Cooper SE constantly surprises in the way it builds speed, even up to triple digits. But there’s a clear difference at the limit as compared to a manual Cooper S or JCW. We’re not sure we miss the more nose heavy nature of those cars but we do like the quicker ability to change direction and the eagerness that less weight brings.
The JCW vs the Cooper SE at the Track
The handling balance and the immediacy of the acceleration is addicting and within 30 minutes we had it down. So down in fact I recorded the fastest run of the day by a half a second. And from having driven the same course with the current JCW, the experience is both familiar yet totally different. With no sound other than wind and tires, there’s less sensory inputs but with that more ability to focus on what matters like braking points, steering angles and throttle modulation.
Yet there’s no question which feels more exciting – the JCW. Especially in manual form, you interact with the car in a more dynamic way connecting you with the experience at a deeper level. In the Cooper SE there’s simply less experience in the process.
Balance is another key difference. The ICE version of the F56 hatch is very nose heavy with a weight distribution of 68/32. Compare that to the electric MINI Cooper SE’s 54/46, and you start to understand the most important difference between these cars. Where the standard Cooper S is constantly transferring weight front to back in tight corners, the Cooper SE is more composed and fluid. Yes there’s more weight but it’s location makes the car more forgiving and predictable.
In other words the unbalanced nature of the standard Cooper S makes getting speed out of it harder. But like all things that can be tricky to master, it’s ultimately rewarding when you do – especially if you’re rowing the gears yourself.
Yet rewarding doesn’t always equal more fun. The electric MINI Cooper SE delivers fun with speed and balance that no MINI has before it.
Electric MINIs at the Track – Take aways
Yes electricity introduces issues at the track. Charging is an issue. But in a ICE world so are brakes and even tires. And then there’s the biggest limiting factor – mental endurance. Spending hour after hour at a track is both incredible and a bit mentally exhausting if you don’t do it regularly. Fact is the battery capacity isn’t really an issue in the big picture. Really what the MINI Cooper SE lacks is simply the excitement of sensory overload. The engine revving and the gears changing creates a more exciting atmosphere – no question.
After a day at the track with the entire MINI range, it’s clear that going electric doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. The all electric MINI Cooper SE is just at home on the track as a standard Cooper S. Its immediacy and balance make it a natural for the smaller, tighter courses and auto-crossing. And it’s ultimately easier to drive fast due to its power delivery and balance.
In many ways I preferred the experience to the JCW I had just gotten out of. It’s simpler, more focused and just as fast. And if it’s the future, even at the track, we’ll all be ok.
Pricing And Availability
The 2022 MINI Cooper SE will start at $29,900. That’s before the $7,500 federal tax incentives and before other state incentives that will likely apply. That means for most, the MINI Cooper SE could cost (after tax deductions) just over $20,000. Availability is another thing. You won’t likely find many on lots due to demand. Instead our recommendation would be ordering via your local MINI Store exactly the spec you want.